By Ulf Laessing and Ayman al-Warfalli
BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – The old centre of Benghazi lies in ruins but one shopping street has sprung up in the war-ravaged Libyan city, with sportswear and fashion stores that would not be out of place in Dubai or Istanbul.
Foreign brands are tapping into residents’ desire to enjoy shopping again after a three-year city war when their minds were concentrated on getting fuel or moving to safer areas.
Imports were limited as fighting between Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army and his mostly Islamist opponents forced Benghazi’s port to close.
But with the end of conflict in 2017, shops have returned and Venice Street, with its trendy new stores and elegant cafes, has brought back a level of wealthy consumerism.
That contrasts with much of the city where some buildings still show bullet holes from World War Two, when Benghazi changed hands between British and German troops.
Former leader Muammar Gaddafi neglected eastern Libya, where Benghazi is located, during his 42 years in power in punishment for political opposition there, and what is now Venice Street was mostly wasteland until his overthrow in 2011.
Residents have money in their bank accounts, as most work for the state, but not necessarily cash as there is a shortage of bank notes.
“It’s good that some traders started accepting cheques,” said Mustafa Bazara, shopping with his sister for shirts.
Cheques are accepted in some shops at a premium as they can usually only be cashed on the black market for a fee.
Ahmed al-Orfy, who runs a new fashion store, said he had high hopes for Venice street: “We have security and the ambition to be on same level as the Champs-Elysees.”
($1 = 1.3849 Libyan dinars)
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)